by: JoAnn Merrigan
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols has always been a fan of the project to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. Even though new figures indicate the project is once again over budget and behind schedule, he says it will be worth it once the reactors finally come online.
Echols was in Savannah Wednesday and says with the Biden’s administration emphasis on clean energy, the reactors take on more importance.
“Because this is carbon-free electricity emissions and that’s going to have more and more of a special value in our country,” said Echols. “I really want to move past the price of this to actually the great value that this is going to be to our customers.”
Still, new information this week from Georgia Power says the plan to build reactors 3 and 4 is over budget once again — this time by up to $600 millIon — and the project dates have been moved back another three months.
“Customers need to know that Vogtle is well behind its originally intended schedule, double the original budget. And at some point, they will start paying more than they are already paying,” said Bryan Jacob from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
In the past decade, customers have paid about $3.5 billion for a nuclear fee that is going to pay interest on the construction loan.
Georgia Power can’t try to collect any construction cost overages until the reactors are online. However, a rate increase associated with Unit 3 is expected to go into effect in late 2022 (when Unit 3 is finally expected to be operating). The average customer would pay an additional $4 per month.
Echols wants consumers to know that the Public Service Commission has officially approved a cost to Georgia Power of $7.3 bllion for the construction. Currently, Georgia Power’s costs are reported at $9.5 billion.
Echols says the utility can ultimately ask for reimbursement from its customers for that extra $2.2 billion but that the PSC doesn’t have to approve it.
“But the actual cost isn’t necessarily what our ratepayers are going to have to pay,” said Echols. “Because there are going to be hearings about the cost and there are going to be things disallowed.
“We don’t know exactly what that is yet, but just because the plan costs X amount on paper doesn’t mean ratepayers are paying that much.”
Echols says Unit 3 is about “99% complete,” and with the need to cut carbon emissions, the Vogtle project will be a huge asset.
“As we get a tax on carbon these reactors are going to be even more valuable,” said Echols.
Echols acknowledged there has been an incredibly long list of problems with the construction and the scheduled opening, saying that “just about every prediction Georgia Power has made has been wrong.”
But Echols also praised Georgia Power and the PSC for carrying on with the project, saying that across the river in South Carolina, a similar nuclear project was abandoned.
Echols says when finished, the reactors will provide a reliable source of energy, but also indicated that 2022 may be a challenging year for Georgia Power customers.
He says a final part of a rate increase approved in 2019 is scheduled to take effect in January, along with the Unit 3 Vogtle increase at the end of the year. He also said that natural gas prices are increasing, which will produce higher gas bills for customers.
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